By Nick Beaulieu, Sports Editor
In South Omaha, landmarks such as Little Italy and Caniglia’s can be found in one of the city’s most historic places. This largely Hispanic community now hosts the first annual Omaha South Classic, an exhibition game played by the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s soccer team on Omaha South’s Collin Field. The Mavs took on last year’s Big 10 champions Penn State, one of the biggest matchups in any sport for UNO, falling 1-0.
In the evening of Aug. 17, 2,581 people gathered to watch the opening game of the season. The Nittany Lions of Penn State made their presence known early, scoring in the 13th minute from a corner kick from Mark Seiler.
“We kind of fell asleep early, a set piece you know first set piece of the season. [It’s] all right we learn from that,” said UNO senior goalkeeper Matt Grosey.
The game was physical despite being an exhibition. Penn State committed seven fouls in the first half. The Mavs were not stifled from the pressure or from the early goal by the Nittany Lions as they outshot PSU 5-to-4 in the half, with a few good chances including an outside shot from Mark Moulton in the 36th minute that went high and wide.
In the second half, the Mavs increased the pressure with even better opportunities. In the 54th minute Craig Buetter ripped a shot off the right post, rattling against the crossbar and bouncing out, inches away from an equalizing goal.
Following this, the Mavs had two more great openings, including a free kick from just outside the box and a nifty play from Christian Garcia who split defenders and put up a shot that was barely tipped over the net by the Nittany Lion goalkeeper, Andrew Wolverton.
“I thought second half, you know obviously down a goal and the crowd getting into it,we had them on their heals a little bit. We were unlucky not to get one. Their goalie had some world class saves,” said Jason Mims, head coach of the UNO soccer team.
Wolverton, who led the shutout effort, is a member of the U.S.A. Under 20 Olympic team.
“He’s a big-time goalie,” Mims said.”He’ll be playing professional soccer for a long time to come on T.V. so he made some big time saves to keep the lead, and they managed the game well to make sure they got the victory.”
The Mavs hung in the entire time, outshooting PSU 11-9 in total and maintaining long time possession on the attacking third. Mims said he was pleased in the effort.
“The effort was great and the atmosphere was wonderful. You could tell that both teams had only trained for 3 days the way we played, so still a lot of things to improve on but the effort was wonderful I thought from both teams,” Mims said.
Grosey, notching three saves as a senior leader, was also proud of the way the team fought against such a big time team and was satisfied with the overall experience of the new UNO tradition.
“For me that’s the biggest crowd I’ve ever played in front of. The atmosphere was great, and we played hard. When they introduced our team and I heard the roar of the stadium, it was unreal,” Grosey said.
Despite having the hype and energy of a playoff game, the matchup was still merely an exhibition to start the season, a way for both teams to knock off rust and prepare for the games that count.
“That’s what exhibitions are for, to learn, and we could probably go off and play a team that won’t be nearly as good as Penn State, but we might not learn as much as we learned tonight,” Mims said. “You have to learn, so our same weaknesses against our conference teams are the same weaknesses we have against Penn State, but Penn state showed us our weaknesses.”
The Mavs kick off their first regular season game against Grand Canyon Aug. 30 at home, but the team won’t be quick to forget the game and experience that was this year’s Omaha South Classic.
“Incredible, very very impressed,” Mims said. “We can’t wait to do this again next year.”